The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) has drawn a lot of attention lately, mostly due to new regulations that went into effect March 15, 2012. A New York Times article is adding to that attention by focusing on efforts by some lawyers to sue businesses that do not comply with the ADA.
The New York Times article notes that 3,000 lawsuits have been brought under the ADA in the past year, which is more than twice as many as were brought under it five years ago. No fitness facilities were mentioned in the article, but health clubs and rec centers are not exempt from these lawsuits.
Some lawyers seek out businesses that do not comply with the ADA and then find disabled people to file a lawsuit against those businesses. The plaintiffs typically receive about $500 per lawsuit while the lawyers collect thousands of dollars in legal fees from the sued businesses. Many of these lawsuits are brought against business owners without allowing them to comply with the ADA first, as a 90-day notice currently is not required in the ADA. However, legislation is pending in Congress that would amend the ADA so that business owners would have 90 days from the date of notice to comply.
Whether you see these lawsuits as a shakedown of businesses or as a laudable civil rights crusade, the fact is that they are happening. So, if you do not know if your facility complies with all ADA rules—particularly the amendments that went into effect March 15 and the pool requirements that were postponed but will go into effect at some point in the future—then you need to check the ADA rules to ensure that you comply. You may also want to hire an architect or consultant to ensure you are in compliance.
Don't just sit there and cross your fingers hoping that no one will notice if your sinks in the locker room are too high. Get busy and make sure you comply, but do not do it just for the sake of preventing a lawsuit. Do it also for the sake of a growing group of disabled people in our population who deserve full access to your facility.